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What Are the Signs of a Pulled Muscle?


By Mike Bills, MS PT

So what are some signs that you may have pulled a muscle? You will generally notice some level of discomfort either right away while you are doing the activity or in the following 24 hours. This is what we typically brush off as “typical soreness” after going for a long walk, standing for a long period of time, running, doing yard work, etc. However, too often, people don’t pay attention to this post-activity soreness because they think it is normal. What it is is the body’s way of telling you that something isn’t quite right, that no matter how little discomfort there is, there was some level of injury.

Additionally, you will most likely notice some stiffness and difficulty moving the body part surrounding the pulled muscle.  Again, this is your body’s way of trying to protect itself and give you a warning sign that things aren’t right. The stiffness is the body protectively shutting down the muscle so that it doesn’t get asked to do that much work again until it has a chance to recover. Stiffness is still a “warning bell” going off that there was some level of an injury.

It’s important to know that it’s not okay to experience even the smallest level of soreness and stiffness for even a short period of time. If this soreness goes away within 24 hours, then the “pull” was very minimal. If you are repeatedly pulling a muscle over the course of time, you are significantly increasing the chance of a more serious injury.  The best thing to do here is to make sure that you stretch and strengthen the muscle to the necessary degree. This is where physical therapy is so helpful.  As physical therapists, we specialize in injury prevention. Pulling a muscle is an excellent time to see a physical therapist at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center to learn what you should and need to be doing to prevent the problem from ever occurring again while also ensuring the pulled muscle heals properly and completely.

If soreness and stiffness continue past the 24 hour mark, it starts to impact the the mechanics of the surrounding joints and body parts. You are at an increased risk for a ligament injury, tearing the muscle, contributing to arthritis, etc. These all become very strong possibilities. If you have stiffness and/or soreness for more than 24 hours, you should definitely consult a physical therapist. Your physical therapist will ensure that the area gets the proper blood supply, that tissues unlock and begin to heal immediately and that the mechanics of the joint are preserved so as to prevent other injury and more.

In cases where a muscle is pulled significantly, you can actually experience things like:

  • Sharp pain
  • Bruising
  • Inability to move that body part at all
  • Weakness

These are all signs that the injury is pretty severe. In these cases, you need to see a medical professional to make sure that the injury begins a healing process right away.  The fact that there is sharp pain, bruising, difficulty moving and other symptoms is the first sign that the body will not and cannot start that healing process on its own. In order for the healing process to occur quickly, properly and fully, it will require the hands-on skills of a physical therapist. Physical therapy will ensure that the area gets the proper blood supply, that tissues unlock and begin to heal immediately, that mechanics of the joint are preserved so as to prevent other injury and more.

So in conclusion, if you suspect that you have pulled a muscle and it is lasting for more than 24 hours, or if has happened more than once in the past 6 months, or more than 3 times total, now is the time to get it checked out. Just like you would take your car in when the ‘check engine’ light comes on, find out what the issue is and why it keeps happening before it turns into a big problem that takes you off the road of enjoying life for a longer period of time.

CLICK HERE for more on how physical therapy can address your muscle aches and pains. 

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